Breck mine investigation continues |

Breck mine investigation continues

summit daily news

BRECKENRIDGE ” While seepage from the Iron Spring mill site near Breckenridge is back down to a slow trickle, local authorities are continuing to investigate a powerful surge of water that spilled from the area down Illinois Creek Monday.

The sudden discharge colored the Blue River bright orange from near the Maggie Pond downstream to the confluence with French Gulch, and may have killed an unknown number of trout.

By Thursday, the water appeared to be back to normal, although some of the rust-colored residue was visible as a fine covering on rocks in the Maggie Pond, according to town of Breckenridge spokeswoman Kim DiLallo.

Tests of water samples taken during the event will show whether there were any toxic metals associated with the flow from the abandoned mining site. Those results are due any day, according to Andy Carlberg, director of the Breckenridge Sanitation District.

The spill from the mine site didn’t threaten the town’s water supply, and Carlberg said he didn’t have any immediate concerns about operations at the district’s treatment facility. But since drainage from old mines is often tainted by toxic heavy metals like zinc, cadmium and lead, local authorities want to know if the spill affected aquatic life in the stream. Some metals, especially zinc, can be toxic to trout and to the aquatic insects at the base of the food chain even at relatively low concentrations.

On another front, both local and state officials are seeking to contact the owners of the mine site property.

“I think the intent is to make sure they are aware of it, to start a conversation, so we can try to figure out what it is we can do,” DiLallo said.

Todd Robertson, director of the county open space and trails department, said the discharge raised questions in his mind about how to coordinate a response to such an event, and how the jurisdiction is allocated among local, state and federal officials. Groups that address abandoned mine issues in Summit County often have broad participation by both government agencies and nonprofit groups, but key players ” the property owners ” are often missing.

Whether or not the owners of the property have any legal liability for the sudden flow of tainted water is not clear yet. An EPA emergency response team is also investigating, but couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

Andy Poirot, state regulator with the Colorado Water Quality Control Division, said the only thing certain is that there is no discharge permit associated with the property. He said the state’s Division of Minerals and Geology (with oversight of abandoned mines) also didn’t have any information on the property.

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